The city of Athens is continuing to invest in solar as an energy alternative to lower costs and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
Multiple buildings in Athens already have solar panel arrays installed, which provide a substantial amount of energy for each building. That includes the Athens County Public Library, the WasteWater Treatment Plant and the Athens Community Center.
Service Safety Director Andy Stone said the solar array in the parking lot of the community center provides about 20% of its demand. The water treatment plant has a new array that produces about 50% of its demand.
“We have conceptual ideas to build a much larger array on the east side to provide the other 80 percent of the community center power and 100 percent of the wastewater treatment plant power demand, but those ideas are still in their infancy,” Stone said in an email.
Athens’ move to solar energy has been an ongoing project that recently culminated in city residents voting in favor of a carbon fee in the 2018 primary election. That fee is meant to fund solar projects in the city, according to a previous Post report.
Elaine Goetz, the director of sustainability at Ohio University, said the city of Athens is unique because this vote made Athens the first city in the nation to have such a fee.
The fee itself is a part of an opt-out program through the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council, or SOPEC, which charges a $1-$2 fee to Athens residents who choose not to opt out.
Goetz, who is also a member of the Athens Environmental and Sustainability Commision, said the city’s move to solar is not just a smart move financially, but also for improving the city’s positive effects on the environment.
“(Athens) has paid less for their electricity from the solar panels than from the grid,” Goetz said. “The panels have worked well and provided a lot of the electricity.”
One company looking to push for investment in solar energy in Ohio is based within the city of Athens. Third Sun Solar is a solar energy firm that seeks to “accelerate the shift to clean energy,” according to its website.
Roberta Washburn, Third Sun Solar’s controller and general manager, said Third Sun Solar often works with various cities like Athens to advocate for and install solar energy systems.
“In Ohio, partially due to the policies, solar seems to make the most sense due to cost and speed in which to implement and relatively low maintenance cost,” Washburn said.
Goetz said lots of other states are attracted to solar energy, like Arizona, California and Nevada. No other city also has a carbon fee.
Washburn said the benefits of solar energy are numerous and include energy cost savings and environmental attributes. She said implementing that form of renewable energy shows other cities, homeowners and businesses that solar energy is an option and attracts them to sustainability.
Goetz said she thinks Athens could see a future where most, if not all of the city’s buildings are powered by solar and other forms of clean energy but is unsure of how long it would take.